Accidental Tourist, The (1981): Kasdan’s Oscar-Nominated Film, Starring William Hurt and Geena Davis

Though faithful to the contents of Anne Tyler’s novel of the same title, The Accidental Tourist lacks its unique spirit and tone.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Lawrence Kasdan, whose work is usually humorless, proves to be the wrong filmmaker for translating onto the screen the novel’s affectionate and humorous treatment of its eccentric characters.


The story provides a new romantic myth for the 1980s, a time of widespread marriage and hoped-for birth. But, with the exceptions of the Geena Davis sequences, the movie is flat and mute. “The Accidental Tourist” is a bizarre date movie, one more suitable for darker times of lower expectations.

After the senseless death of their son, the marriage of Macon Leary (William Hurt) and Sarah Leary (Kathleen Turner) falls apart, and they separate.  Macon then falls for an eccentric dog trainer, Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis), but his emotional paralysis limits their relationship.


In voice-over narration, Macon Leary says: “A business traveler should bring only what fits in a carry-on bag.  Checking your luggage  is asking for trouble.”

The first part of the film, depicting the troubled marriage of the Learys, is rather weak.  Sarah charges: “There’s something so muffled about the way you experience things. It’s as if you were trying to slip through life unchanged.”  For his part, Macon is beginning to think that “maybe it’s not just how much you love someone.  Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them.”

The film suffers from slow pacing, melancholy tone, and lugubrious score.  Fans of Tyler’s novel found the movie to be sketchy and its action baffling, to say the least.

Geena Davis: Lead or Supporting Actress?

William Hurt renders an expectedly quiet, understated performance, but it’s Geena Davis’ exuberant performance that’s the film’s strongest and most vivid element, playing an extremely sympathetic and endearing part.  Davis’ Supporting Actress Oscar nomination was questionable; many believed she deserved a lead nomination since her role is sizeable and crucial to the narrative.


Kasdan was snubbed by his colleagues at the Directors Branch, but the screenplay was Oscar-nominated.

With the blessing of the New York Film Critics Circle, which honored it with its Best Film kudo, The Accidental Tourist was reasonably popular at the box office, earning over $32 million.

Detailed Plot (Scene by Scene)

Macon Leary (Hurt) is a Baltimore writer of travel guides for reluctant business travelers that detail how to avoid unpleasantness and difficulty on the road.

His marriage to Sarah (Turner) is disintegrating after the murder of their twelve-year-old son. Sarah leaves Macon, moving out of their house and into her own apartment.  Falling down the stairs and breaking his leg, forces Macon to return to his childhood home and stay with his eccentric siblings.

Macon is pursued by Muriel Pritchett (Davis), a dog trainer with a sickly son. Macon hires Muriel to put his dog through training. Though Muriel seems brash and unsophisticated, Macon is attracted to her. When Sarah becomes aware, she decides they should move back together into their old home, and Macon leaves Muriel.

Macon goes to Paris for research, and Muriel surprises him by showing up on the same flight, and staying in the same Paris hotel recommended by Macon in his travel guide.  She hopes to have good time together, but Macon is all about business.

When Macon is bedridden due to back problem, Sarah comes to Paris to help complete his travel research. She confronts Macon about his relationship with Muriel, but he refuses to discuss it.

On the way to the airport, Macon spots Muriel from his taxi, and they exchange smiles.


Oscar Alert

Released in prime Oscar time, in December, the film won Best Picture from the New York Film Critics Circle. However, the Best Picture Oscar nomination of “The Accidental Tourist,” the only psychological drama that year, caught many critics and industry members by surprise.

At Oscar time, the film competed against the witty, offbeat costume piece, “Dangerous Liaisons”; the controversial political expose, “Mississippi Burning,” which was faulted for distorting reality; Mike Nichols’s light comedy about corporate-ladder-climbing, “Working Girl”; and Barry Levinson’s siblings serio-comedy, “Rain Man,” which won Best Picture, Director, and Actor (Dustin Hoffman).

In 1988, the Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to Christopher Hampton for “Dangerous Liaisons.”  Composer John Williams lost the award to Dave Grushin, who won for Robert Redford’s “The Milagro Beanfield War.”


Oscar Nominations: 4

Picture, produced by Lawrence Kasdan, Charles Okun, and Michael Grillo.
Screenplay (Adapted): Frank Galati and Lawrence Kasdan, based on the novel by Anne Tyler
Supporting Actress: Geena Davis
Score: John Williams

Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actress

Other Awards:

John Williams was nominated for Golden Globe for the Best Original Score.


Macon Leary (William Hurt)

Sarah Leary (Kathleen Turner)

Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis)

Rose (Amy Wright)

Julian (Bill Pullman)

Alexander Pritchett (Robert Gorman)

Porter Leary (David Ogden Stiers)

Charles Leary (Ed Begley Jr.)

Mr. Loomis (Bradley Mott)

Ethan (Seth Granger)


Produced by Lawrence Kasdan, Charles Okun, Michael Grillo

Director: Kawrence Kasdan

Camera: John Bailey

Editor: Carol Littleton

Music: John Williams

Production design: Bo Welch

Costumes: Ruth Myers

Running time: 121 Minutes

Release date: December 23, 1988